Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Death of a Toy Soldier: A Vintage Toyshop Mystery

Author:  Barbara Early
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781629538389
Crooked Lane Books
304 Pages
October 11, 2016

Five Stars

Liz McCall grew up in a playful winter wonderland but it was never her dream to manage her father's vintage toyshop.  However, after he sank his entire police pension into the business, someone needed to help him turn his dreams into reality - and keep him from sneaking off to patrol the not-so-mean streets of East Aurora, NY.

The mood goes from nice to naughty when a nervous man, who was trying to have his antique toys appraised, is found in the shop with a lawn dart through his chest.  Suddenly, Liz's business plan is plunged into deep freeze, while she and her father find themselves toying with a cold-blooded killer who's playing for keeps.

Now, it looks like Christmas might be cancelled for the neighborhood kids if Liz can't wrap up the case.


Liz McCall is gearing up for the holidays, working in the toy shop her father owns, Well Played.  Her father Hank is the ex-chief of police of East Aurora, New York; having had to retire due to a near-fatal gunshot wound.  This, however, hasn't kept him from his habit of occasionally sneaking out to maintain law and order in their small town.  So much so, that the new current chief of police, Ken Young, has deputized him.

One evening a nervous stranger arrives bearing an old cardboard box of vintage toys, asking if he can get an appraisal.  When it's discovered Hank has sneaked out once again, Liz convinces the man to leave the toys for her father, who can assess their true worth.

Several nights later Liz is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of a crash coming from the store, which is below the apartment she and her father reside in.  When she goes to investigate she finds her father, disoriented and stumbling, with blood on his head and discovers a gruesome sight:  the dead body of the man who had brought the toys to them earlier - stabbed with one of their own lawn darts.  To make matters worse, the box of toys seem to have disappeared from the store.

But identifying the man isn't going to be easy, since he was found with no identification and other problems arise that make it difficult.  Questions abound, including the fact that it appears her father didn't even know the man, and not the least withstanding of why her father was meeting with him in the late evening hours.  Knowing her father's innocence, even if Chief Young may think he's suspect, Liz is determined to prove this fact by whatever means possible.

When they are finally able to identify the man they also find his employer, the the true owner of the missing toys - yet he, too, is recently deceased, and this only complicates things - because now her ex-boyfriend, Jack Wallace becomes involved, since the second dead man was his uncle and it leads to even more questions.  Why did the man killed in their shop have the toys in the first place?

She gets help from her father, of course, but also from a pair of elderly sisters who live next door to the deceased and who might know more than they've let on; a newcomer who turns out to be a ghost hunter; and her ex-boyfriend who might just still be interested in Liz - or could just be interested in the fact of finding the killer before his own mother becomes a suspect...

What a delightful introduction to a new series.  Liz McCall is a level-headed, thirty-something woman who moved in with her father to care for him after his accident and stayed on to manage the toy shop her father owns.  She's joined by her sister-in-law Cathy, who writes bad poetry and can't cook, but has a good heart and only wants the best for Liz; and I found the scene where Liz and her father are discreetly trying to 'dispose' of Cathy's experiments in the kitchen quite humorous.

We are also given some of Liz' and her brother Parker's background: growing up with a police officer father, who was absent at times, and an alcoholic mother, which explains why Liz is so protective of her dad.  Then there is Jack, her ex-boyfriend who seems to want to be a part of her life again, and Chief Young, who also appears to be intrigued by Liz.  It will be interesting to see where this takes the story line in future books.  (It must run in the family because her father is no slouch in this area, either).

The plot was different and quite involved: a dead man who wasn't who he said he was, a box of missing toys, greedy relatives, ghost hunters, and no lack of suspects with possible motives.  It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of people fighting over toys, and this time someone comes to a deadly end.

When we finally discover the identity of the killer, it comes as a bit of a surprise, but that's what a mystery is supposed to be all about.  The ending is gratifying and it makes sense, leaving no unanswered questions.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and look forward to the next.  Highly recommended.

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